Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Last week we were faced with the return of the tantrum.  First it was the occasion when I closed the garage door, without consulting the self-appointed garage troll, after I'd driven him home from preschool. Then there was a more complicated scenario that involved a tray, 2 bottles of milk, a hungry 15 month old and a missing packet of biscuits, at six in the morning.  Most recently it was Billy Idol.  We were in the car.  Dancing With Myself had been heard no less than 5 times.  Just as Billy nears the end he starts shouting 'sweat, sweat, sweat.'  Bleached-hair, fist-pounding, lip-snarling, it's hardly Tin Pan Annie, but Max picked it out himself from the CD storage book, and has since become single minded when it comes to punk pop.  Billy Idol's Greatest Hits is a winning album, but unfortunately we can only listen to the one song.  Max refuses to let the playlist go beyond that first track.  (Next up is Mony Mony, come on, it's taking you back, I know it).  This time we are determined and tell Max we aren't going to rewind.
'Here she comes now...' starts Billy, but we can't hear much more because Max, from the back seat, is wailing on about having 'the OTHER song, the OTHER one'.  I try explaining that there are plenty of good songs, we just can't have that one again, but it doesn't help. Wrong or right, I switch the music off.  Wrong.
I tell Max he needs to ask nicely and say 'please' to get the music back on.  He stubbornly refuses, and instead goes with the 'sweat, sweat, sweat' technique: it's grating, noisy and monotonous; all we can hear is 'MORE, MORE, MORE'.  It's like he's jabbing us with a sharp object.
By the time we reach home he refuses to get out of the car, which means I have to part lift, part drag him out of the vehicle, which means he bolts when his feet hit the ground, nearly running into the road, which terrifies me and makes me go for the vice grip, which stops his legs moving altogether, which in turn doesn't make it easy to cross the road and blatantly isn't very nice for Max, which then sees him going for the kick-mummy-tactic, which means he goes straight to his room.
I stand at the top of the stairs, waiting for the door to reopen, as it inevitably does, and hear my wailing, red-eyed son tell me through the tears; 'I JUST WANT TO LISTEN TO BILLY IDOL'. I realise I could have played this one a bit better. I could have just played the song, again.  He was tired, I should have known better.  It made me feel weary, physically and mentally.
I wouldn't normally be sharing this glorious parenting moment but it sets the scene, because it was a few days later that I heard about and then started reading Nurture Shock. It was just the thing I needed to give my parenting new inspiration.  There's a lot of fascinating information about neurons, which I won't remember, but there's also some practical stuff in there - like telling a child he's a genius probably won't have a positive outcome on his schoolwork, or tactics on how to stop a child lying.  And there were some interesting facts to think about, like the nicest kid can also be the meanest, or that teenagers just don't see risks the same way as adults do.  Interestingly there are some things that are fairly unchangeable, like sibling relationships - they're established early and probably stay that way into adulthood - but then there's a lot that's highly variable, like helping those siblings to co-operate early can have an influence, and the fact that there are a lot more factors than just brains, that feed into intelligence. The book made me look at the bigger picture, which is always helpful when you are knee deep in the moment.
Being armed with all this information is both good and bad. It's amazing to learn about the neuro-biology of children and I feel I now have a few more tools to try and create family harmony and sibling friendship, but it also feels like a lot to remember, and more reason to feel guilty when, in spite of it all, I still don't know how to handle the Billy Idol tantrum.

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